Wednesday, 12 December 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Sexy flowers

By Emma Townshend

There was a brilliant programme on Radio 4 this morning (yes, see how I tricked you with the title and then actually I'm going to go on about botany, zzzz). It was about Linnaeus, presented by The Independent on Saturday's Anna Pavord. Carl Linnaeus shocked 18th-century England by devising a system of classification for all living things, and his plant taxonomy was particularly controversial because it was so - well - saucy. Linnaeus used the sexual parts of flowers to differentiate one species from another - which caused even more uptightness among the already uptight English.

For gardeners, Linnaeus was an amazing figure, but the thing I loved on
Anna Pavord's programme was hearing from Timothy Walker, head of Oxford Botanic Garden.
He is an unrepentant gardening showman, whose particular enthusiasm is

He explained that the problem for botanic gardens at the
moment is that DNA fingerprinting techniques are now being applied to
plants, and are revealing that the neat families worked out by
taxonomists aren't as clear as was once thought. It turns out that
about 10 per cent of plants need to be reassigned to completely new
taxonomic groups.

The bigggest controversy has concerned the sacred
lotus flower. It looks like a waterlily, it grows like a waterlily, but
is actually more closely related (according to its DNA) to plane trees
and proteas. You can listen again until next Tuesday, and it's a really nice, interesting treat.

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